This blog post was contributed by Olga Wysłowska (University of Warsaw).
Modern research clearly shows that close and warm relationships between children and educators are the most important condition for optimal development of children . However, the question is how to ensure that children, especially the youngest ones feel comfortable and safe in the setting after weeks of being surrounded by suggestions to isolate from others.
In the recent weeks, many caregivers of small children have been wondering how to ensure safe conditions of provision. Not only safe from the risks of the coronavirus, but also emotionally safe and conducive for children’s development. During this period, when there are new (restrictive) sanitary regulations and many children come to settings having been taught by their families to keep distance, we suggest that caregivers pay special attention to ‘contact-free’ forms of communication and support to children, especially in the initial period of setting’s reopening.
Here are five practical tips to use straight away:
- Eye contact
To make sure that children listen to what we say to them or that they feel we are interested in what they do, caregivers should try to make eye contact with them as much as possible. It’s not always easy with a group of children but the point is that to have this kind of interaction with each of the children from time to time (and every time we talk to the child, or she/her talks to us). This will give the child the feeling that she/he can continue with what they were doing at the time and that she/he does not have to approach the caregiver to seek his/her interest. The smile of the caregiver, who looks the child in the eyes, expresses more than 1000 words!
- Body language
When a child turns to the caregiver, or the caregiver turns to the child, it is important that the adult’s body language expresses his or her commitment to the conversation.Many caregivers may have doubts as to whether, in the current situation, they should distance themselves from children when talking to them. However, when working with very young children, it is particularly difficult. That is why it’s important in everyday contact with children not to forget about body language, among others communicate with children while being on their level (when the child sits on the floor, we also sit on the floor), and keeping eye contact
- Descriptive language
To minimise the risk of children feeling lost and not knowing what to do at different times of the day (after such a long break from day care, this can happen to many children, also in the context of routine activities they are well familiar with), caregivers should develop a habit of frequently describing their activities and those that involve children, for example Now I’m picking up the plates from the tables, and you’re sitting at the tables. It’ll only take a moment. When I’m done, you’ll get up from the table. Together we’ll go to the bathroom, where… This strategy can be extremely helpful in organizing the group’s work in new conditions, giving children a sense of order and, importantly, effectively supporting the development of their communication skills.
- Monitoring children’s behaviour
One of the situations in which physical contact with the child is typically necessary is when the young child experiences difficult emotions. The cause of these emotions may be, for example, a conflict with a peer. Experiencing and coping with conflict is important for developing different competences in children, e.g. dealing with stressful situations. Nowadays, however, it is particularly important to monitor the behaviour of children and to react ‘in advance’ in situations that have the potential to lead to frustration that children will only be able to deal with by “physical” means. The caregivers should closely monitor children’s behaviour and intervene if necessary. For example, when seeing a child going towards another one to take a toy away from him or her, approach them and remind them of the rules for playing with toys, or ask what they plan to play.
- Items close to the child
One of the ways often used by caregivers to ensure that toddlers feel comfortable and safe in the facility was to encourage them to bring an object from home that is important to them. Earlier, children usually decided to bring their teddy bears, blankets or nappies; nowadays, for safety reasons it may be forbidden to bring any of those items. In this situation, we suggest hanging pictures of people closest to the children in the room, which will strengthen the children’s sense of continuity of experience between the home environment and the setting.
This is very difficult, but the current situation does not exempt caregivers from providing children with a sense of security and closeness. However, we might need to give these activities a new formula.
 Slot, P. (2018b). Structural characteristics and process quality in early childhood education and care: A literature review, OECD Education Working Papers, No.176, OECD Publishing.